The world is progressively going mobile! The freedom to do our best work from wherever is quickly becoming more feasible for people. As such, new tools continue to pop up to allow professionals to do their best work in less traditional ways.
Shure is one of those companies giving us new ways to capture sound from anywhere. But can a small mic stuck on the end of your iPhone come close to the quality of the *oh so sexy* Shure SM7B, or can it match the build quality of an indestructible Shure SM58? In short, the question is, does it matter? We’re in a new world and new ways to work mean new standards.
First, this is a mic built specifically for lightning connections on Apple’s iOS devices. If you’re an Android user, or still rocking an older iPad or iPhone, this device will not work for you.
The MOTIV MV88 is classic Shure, so you can be sure this thing is built well! You may not be able to drive over it with a semi-truck, I didn’t try, but it’s built to withstand a good amount of careless tossing around.
We’ll start with the protective case this mic comes with because it’s the first indication that this is probably going to be a high-quality piece of kit. It’s a small, tight, egg-shaped, black, zippered case. It’s solid and, if there was any chance this mic could be damaged, the case puts the final protective touches on it.
The whole thing, with the case, is small enough to just throw into any bag and you can rest easy that your mic will be completely protected.
The mic also comes with a great windscreen which really changes the whole aesthetic of the mic. With the windscreen, it’s a simple black ball-shaped mic. Without, it’s quite gadgety. It’s not unlike the difference between an SM57 next to an SM58.
The metal build and brushed finish give the mic a minimalistic and industrial elegance. The small LED, located somewhat awkwardly on the bottom of the mic, lets the user know that your iOS device is using the MV88 as the audio input.
My only real complaint is that there’s no line-out for headphones. As for low latency monitoring, I didn’t perceive any problems having my headphones plugged directly into my iPhone 6s+ or iPad, but for using a newer iPhone without the headphone jack, you’ll have to trust the visual input monitor within Shure’s free MOTIV app. While not ideal, the reality is that even with the ability to plug in headphones to my headphone jack, I often opt for the simplicity of trusting the input monitor.
The mic is made to pivot 90 degrees using the black plastic elbow, which is great if you’re using it to capture audio for video, or if you want to read from the device you’re recording on to. With the mic bent towards you, it pics up clean audio from within a foot of the mic. If you’re using it to interview someone, you can point the mic away from your device and hold your phone upside down as a mic handle.
The MOTIV app is a really important part of the review and unlocks key features of the MV88. Without the app, the mic still works, but you’ll miss a ton of functionality. The MV88 has four built-in audio patterns: stereo width between 60º to 135º, mono cardioid, mono bidirectional, and raw mid-side. You can easily swipe through the various patterns. The app also allows you to set the gain, use a pre-set EQ (flat, speaking, singing, guitar, and loudspeakers; which is great for capturing audio at a loud concert).
There’s a built-in limiter, compressor, wind reduction, and left-right swap. If you feel so inclined to create your own EQ mix, you can adjust five bands in the custom EQ visualizer. Once you have the settings you want, you can either switch to whatever app you want to record on to, or use the recording function within the MOTIV app.
Once you’ve completed your recording, you give it a name, and it saves automatically within the app. There are editing features within the app, but I find it easier to edit the files with more robust apps like Garage Band, Hokusai, or Ferrite.
The MOTIV app works great, most of the time, but Shure was slow to update the app when the beta version of iOS 11 was released. For beta testers, the app would crash as soon as you plugged in the MV88. I hope Shure is quicker in keeping the app working for us early adapters for future iOS releases.
MOTIV is available both for iPhone and iPad (I did not test on an iPod Touch, but it presumably would work on that device just the same).
This mic will not take the place of your SM7B running through an Apollo Twin, but it’s not supposed to. This mic’s aim is to give your high-quality portability. For me, this mic’s main competitor is the Zoom H1 or any other portable recorder used by broadcasters, podcasters, and iPhone videographers who need to travel light yet still have something high quality to work with. The MV88 meets this need and more.
The audio is clean and natural, if not lacking just a little low end. I end up boosting the bass a little in post-production just to get a little bit of that sexy NPR voice (you know what I mean).
While the wind reduction and compressor are nice additions in really controlled settings, I find them a little aggressive or opinionated. When a gust of wind comes up, it genuinely cuts the wind rumble, but it does something strange with the audio that makes it just sound unnatural. Listeners can appreciate some wind when you’re recording outside, but the replacement just sounds like a glitch in the audio. As a result, I typically use flat settings when I’m outside.
MV88 Flat audio sample
MV88 Spoken Word Setting audio sample
Who is the Shure MV88 For
There are many who will proudly wear their H6 with a strap, holding a shotgun mic while wandering around with headphones on, and they will always rest easy knowing they got the best tape they could. But, sometimes a story finds you when you least expect it and you don’t have your full kit with you.
Or, if you’re like me, you hate wondering around with a bunch of heavy gear. The fact that I can reach into the bottom of my bag, quickly pull out the MV88, and then pop it onto my iPhone whenever inspiration strikes is liberating.
Further, I don’t have to connect any devices to my MacBook to transfer the files. I can either continue to do all my production work on my iOS device or AirDrop the file to my Mac, which further simplifies my process.
With the maturation of the iPad Pro, I find myself using it more and more as my daily driver, which means that all the tape I capture on my Zoom H5 stays on my Zoom H5 until I’m finally back at my computer and have the time to transfer the files. This slows me down, and while I don’t feel the MV88 can replace my expensive mics, there are a lot of times that having my MV88 means I capture /something/ rather than nothing.
For the casual podcaster who’s trying to get their message out while not sound like a hack, this is money well spent!
For the podcaster who’s constantly capturing audio clips as they go about their lives, welcome to the future. For me, the MV88 allows me to leave the house guilt-free that I didn’t bring all my gear along.
My podcast, The NateCast, is a mixture of audio essays, and interviews with the interesting people I’m meeting as I travel throughout Europe with my large family. While I wouldn’t typically use the MV88 for the studio sessions (although I recently needed to and was happy enough with the results), I no longer carry my recorder, XLR, and Røde NTG1 out with me wherever I go. This has allowed me to be more spontaneous which, in turn, helps me be a better story-teller.
About the Author: Nate Sawatzky
Nate Sawatzky is a podcaster, consultant, and curious soul, currently travelling slowly with his family of eight throughout Europe. For years, Nate has worked with online communities like Club Penguin, Glitch, and Facebook, to help establish better policies and practice which foster human connection and creativity. You can find Nate’s podcast, The NateCast, on Soundcloud, or follow him on Twitter @natesawatzky.